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Charles Darwin and Edward Tolman

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 1882 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Psychology is a significant field of study because it is a science that studies various areas concerning people and other living organisms like behavior, mental processes, emotion, and performance. It can be applied to everyday life as well as other areas. Many renowned theorists have postulated theories that has improved our comprehension of life and why we function the way that we do. They also provide valuable information that can be applied to treat different mental or emotional disorders as well as to improve education. For this paper I chose to focus on two theorists, Charles Darwin and Edward Tolman. Both leading theorists have developed methods still looked at and used in the study of psychology.

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Charles Darwin was born Charles Robert Darwin on February 12, 1809, in Shrewsbury, England, and is a naturalist, biologist and geologist. He made a significant contribution to the establishment of naturalistic, scientific, and humanist ideas. Darwin is best known for his theory of evolution in which he primarily focused on the concept of natural selection and survival of the fittest. His theory of biological evolution through his concept of natural selection would invariably become the basis for the contemporary study of evolution. Many of his theories caused much controversy and subtly undermine religious beliefs during the Victorian Era. One was his suggestion that animals and humans were closely related. Overtime, his theories that went against traditional religious beliefs would become prominent throughout science, politics, and literature.

Charles Galton Darwin was born the fifth child to Robert Waring Darwin and Susannah Wedgwood. Darwin’s father was a medical doctor, and his mother was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, a prominent pottery designer, manufacturer and entrepreneur. His paternal grandfather was Erasmus Darwin, a prominent physician, naturalist, poet and philosopher from Elston, United Kingdom. Robert Darwin and Susannah Wedgwood had a total of six children, four girls and two boys. Darwin was the youngest of the boys. Sadly in 1817 Susannah died when Darwin was just eight years old. Promptly leaving him and his other siblings to be properly cared for by his three more elderly sisters, Marianne, Susan, and Caroline. Growing up Darwin greatly admired his dear father although he was a bit overbearing. However, he learned a lot about human psychology due to his father being a doctor. Darwin was initially home schooled but was later sent to school. He was stated to have “did so poorly that his father predicted that some day he would disgrace himself and his family” (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2009, p. 283). Despite this at the age of 16 in 1825, he was qualified to attend and practice medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Darwin later recounted on his experience at the University stating he did not learn that much and found the lectures unamusing. He also “did not like watching operations performed without benefit of anesthesia” (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2009, p. 283). In 1828 after taking his freethinking father’s advice, he transferred to Cambridge University or Christ’s College. While there he was taught and trained as an Anglican gentleman. It was during his time at Cambridge that he started developing a passion for entomology. This allowed him the opportunity to meet with many professors of botany and geology.

Darwin is deemed sufficiently the father of evolution. In his theory of natural selection, Darwin theorized that all life on earth evolved from non-living matter. Darwin postulated that as time goes by all species undergo a change due to natural selection. He coined the memorable phrase “Survival of the fittest” which is most commonly used to properly explain natural selection. Survival of the fittest stated that organisms had a more realistic chance of surviving and reproducing more successfully when they are most adapted to their environment. In addition to this, Darwin also proposed that animals evolve from other animals in order for them to adapt to their environments. The traits selected a partly responsible for the fitness in an organism. Fitness was described by Darwin as “an organism’s ability to survive and reproduce” (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2009, p. 286). After a considerable period of time, the organisms’ fitness maximizes. Adaptive features are inherited functional features that allow for an organism to adjust, survive, reproduce in its environment successfully and increase its fitness. Organisms that possess these features are considered to be fit. As previously stated, his theory received a lot of adverse criticism and was not universally accepted because it hotly disputed the religious belief, creationism. The most common criticisms by many critics of Darwin’s theory are that there is no scientific evidence that supports his claims and that Darwin was not fully sure how natural selection worked.

Edward Chance Tolman was born on April 14, 1886, in West Newton, Massachusetts. He is a psychologist and methodological. He is the younger brother of Richard C. Tolman, a notable American psychist and chemists. Tolman played a significant role in the study of learning and motivation. He is most notable for his research on cognitive behaviorism and cognitive maps. Tolman progressively introduced a distinct branch of psychology known as Purposive Behavior or what he referred to as Molar Behaviorism. He also more considerably developed the concept known as latent learning.

Tolman father was a businessman who according to the text was “a member of the first graduating class of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later an official member of its board of trustees” (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2009, p. 424). After graduating from high school in 1907, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated in 1911. While there he received an undergraduate degree in chemistry along with his more elderly brother, Richard. Prior to exploring psychology, Tolman was more interested in studying psychics and mathematics but that would promptly change after reading, Principles of Psychology by William James. Along with being influenced by William James, he was also influenced by Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka (whom he studied with while spending his summer in Germany) and Kurt Lewin (an influential psychologist from Germany who relocated to America).

Purposive Behaviorism is known for forging a link between behaviorism and cognitive theory. Tolman often referred to it as molar behavior but it is also known as sign learning. It is a behaviorism that aims to scientifically investigate the “entire action of the total organism” and was based on the psychological views of Behaviorist John Watson and Gestalts Psychologists (“Edward”, 2018). He asserted reinforcement affected performance instead of learning. According to the text, Tolman was against the prevailing belief that “learning is an automatic process based on contiguity and frequency nor that it results from reinforcement (a pleasurable state of affairs)” (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2009, p. 429). Alternatively, Tolman was adamant that learning took place continuously regardless of reinforcement and motivation. He supposed motivation influenced performance instead of learning and that it wasn’t necessary for learning to occur. Performance was defined by Tolman as “the translation of learning into behavior” (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2009, p. 429). His claim was properly supported by one of his most famous latent learning experiments with C.H. Honzik, conducted in 1930.

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In 1930, Tolman conducted his most famous latent learning experiment along with C.H. Honzik. The experiment scientifically demonstrated the dissimilarity between learning and performance dramatically. The subjects were three groups of rats, and their task was to run through a maze for ten days. The first group was reinforced with food if they traveled through the intricate maze correctly. While the second group was not reinforced if they made it to the intended target. The third group received the same treatment as the subjects in group two and were not reinforced until the 11th day. The subjects were ungiven any food prior to being placed in the intricate maze. Tolman and Honzik observed the performance of group three was similar with the group one from the 12th day on upon receiving reinforcement. Moreover, it was discovered precisely that group three had learned and properly constructed a cognitive map of the complex maze to reach the goal box even when they were not reinforced. He instantly discovered that when the food (reinforcement) was given to the rats, it was implied by the behavior that they demonstrated that learning occurred. Tolman’s experiment successfully proved his hypothesis and the results were more cognitively oriented. According to the text, it was evident that learning remained concealed till the organism had to make use of it (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2009, p. 429). Tolman considered extinction as a transformation in the expectancy of the organism.

After carefully researching both prominent theorists, it is apparent that their specific area of focus in their work differs subtly. Tolman mostly focused on cognitive behavior whereas Charles Darwin focused on evolution theory. The age difference between both theorists is significant. Darwin and Tolman are 77 years apart in age. The difference in age shows that they both grew up in distinct eras. This is possible to have an impact on whom they are influenced by. Tolman was favorably influenced by William James, Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka, and German American psychologists Kurt Lewin. The prominent scientists that influenced Darwin were Jean Baptiste Lamarck, Charles Lyell, Alfred Wallace, and James Hutton.

Overall, Darwin and Tolman produced a visible mark on the study of psychology and revolutionized the way that we scrupulously observed the world. Darwin was the first to scientifically describe and explain evolution. Although he did not provide all the necessary answers, he was clever at sparking our brains. Darwin’s remarkable theory has exerted a significant effect on our modern perception of the world, nature and who we are as humans. Edward Tolman ideas and theories transformed the way that we typically view behavior. He also established the foundation for purposive behaviorism and influenced modern cognitive science. Although both theorists work focused in separate areas there is no doubt that they both had an influence on the study of modern psychology.


  • Desmond, A. (2018). Charles Darwin. In Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Darwin
  • Edward C. Tolman. (2018). In Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved from https://academic.eb.com/levels/collegiate/article/Edward-C-Tolman/72806
  • Hergenhahn, B.R. (2009). An Introduction to the History of Psychology. (7th Ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/ Thompson Publishing Company.


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